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City politics and the debate over traditional vs. modern architecture

Original post made on Aug 15, 2014

Last fall I conducted an opinion poll to gauge Palo Altans' preferences for various architectural styles here and internationally. As in similar polls elsewhere, the local public prefers traditional architecture to modern by a margin of at least 3:1.

Read the full guest opinion here Web Link posted Friday, August 15, 2014, 12:00 AM

Comments (14)

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Posted by How is this scientific?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 15, 2014 at 5:13 pm

Really not sure how anyone can hang their hat on the validity of this survey. Nothing about it was scientific. I happen to know a number of people who took it three or four times thinking it was a joke.

While I respect Mr. Smith's energy and commitment, there it is certainly another side to this which has not been fully vetted. Perhaps a more balanced survey, conducted by an impartial group, using more realistic examples might be a real tool for planners and community members. Mr. Smith did not get his way in the appeal process. At this point, publishing his opinion only appears as childish kicking and screaming tantrum.


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Posted by Eric Rosenblum
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 15, 2014 at 5:38 pm

This survey was not scientifically conducted. The author talks about the NUMBER of responses being similar to those used by Gallup for certain national polls. What he doesn't address is the COMPOSITION of the responses. The art of a Gallup poll is presumably their ability to find a representative sample of ages, income distribution, geographic distribution, etc. Like all grassroots appeals, this survey was probably first sent to the author's friends, and then to the Palo Alto neighborhood associations (which are largely older and more conservative).

The aim of this study is very good. However, the methods make the conclusions not helpful from a decision-making point of view. I'm actually surprised, given the method, that the "lovers of traditional buildings" are ONLY 3:1 ahead.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of University South
on Aug 15, 2014 at 5:45 pm

I'd caution putting too much faith in this poll. At their best, polls are simply snapshots in time. At their worst, they are completely misleading. Governing by polls is an unfortunate habit and no substitute for leadership.

As for the rest, this strikes me as a difference in aesthetic taste. I appreciate Mr. Smith's passion but don't believe that the judgment of the city council is outrageous in this case. We're not attempting to recreate Santa Barbara here. Let's allow Palo Alto the chance to evolve with the times in a thoughtful and tasteful way.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 15, 2014 at 5:54 pm

Mr. Smith brings up relevant points about process.

Especially wIth respect to the the (modern) building that he was appealing, situated in the most traditional block in Palo Alto. Smith's arguments are certainly better than the explanation from the builders about how the modern structure on 240 Hamilton will be compatible with the surroundings. It will be the same height as the hotel across the street, it's is as square as the next building, it's in Palo Alto..... Or what counts is compatibility with the international youth vote (which was not scientific - five kids from the developer's camp who spoke 3 minutes each at city hall).

We can all vote after 240 Hamilton is up about who was right about compatibility.

The broader conversation however shouldn't be about preferences between traditional vs modern. This will keep the argument for better buildings to stay in that narrow debate about time periods and taste.

Surveys don't leave you enough room to say what you really think. This was an option between two things. I would venture to say that most people know what a quality building is, when it adds and when it is out of place. Palo Alto has enjoyed not having to worry about buildings because they weren't creeping like bad weeds. Now that they are, and we should address what makes buildings good, what makes them better, and press for developers to hire truly outstanding architects.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 15, 2014 at 6:05 pm



My bet is that 240 Hamilton will be most compatible with the City Hall building.


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Posted by southbayresident
a resident of another community
on Aug 15, 2014 at 10:52 pm

Yea the only thing that survey accomplished was to demonstrate the ignorance and bias of the person creating it as well as create a text book example of how NOT to create a valid and trusted survey.

Mr Smith seemed incapable of recognizing that it was possible to like both "traditional" and "modern" architectural styles and that you don't need to pit one against the other. Furthermore there is no singular "traditional" or "modern" architectural style. Architectural history spans a wide variety of forms since the beginning of civilization.

It would of made just as much sense for Douglas Smith to have created a survey to determine Palo Alto residents preferred restaurant choices with survey questions pairing off Italian vs. Chinese / Thai vs. Mexican / Indian vs. German ect. True to the format of Mr. Smith's survey it would be impossible to indicate you like both or don't like either.

If it concluded a 3-1 preference for Italian then it could be taken to the city council to argue for a municipal regulation that Palo Alto restaurants can only serve Italian food.


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Posted by Rupert of henzau
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 16, 2014 at 7:35 am

This is one of the poorest guest editorials in the weekly. It is based entirely on a false premise-- that a survey conducted was a valid, scientific survey. This was clearly not the case. The writer clearly shows that he knows nothing about survey taking when he states that 960 people have taken the survey and therefore it is valid. Were these 960 individual people, representing a cross section of residents or 96 people who took the survey 10 times?
The authors, while singing the praises of Holman, goners the fact that she is on the payroll of one of the local developers ( conflict of interest alert).
The weekly, in its stories, has constantly referenced this survey as if it were valid and meaningful. So not surprising that they published this opinion piece


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 16, 2014 at 8:56 am

Rupert,

It's not an editorial, it's a guest opinion.

You really have an issue with Holman don't you? And yes Holman deserves praises for speaking up on what was a much more unscientific (bizarre) analysis of why Mr. Smith's appeal was denied.


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Posted by Rupert of henzau
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 16, 2014 at 9:17 am

Resident-- guest editorial, guest opinion. 6 of one, half a dozen of another. It is still a piece that is based on phony data. Plus the author claims about 8 people have broken the law. Maybe he should file a complaint with the police.
And yes, I have an issue with Holman. I think she is out of her league on the council. And the recent developments regarding her finder fees and conflicts with her financial interest statements make her unfit for the council, IMHO. Still waitng for an investigation by the Weekly, but given her relationship with the weekly, I doubt that will come.
That and the publishing of this opinion piece by the weekly shows that the weekly should not be taken seriously as a newspaper or as a source of guidance for voters.


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Posted by Council watcher
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 16, 2014 at 11:08 pm

[Portion removed due to disrespectful comment.]
When you say Holman is "out of her league," you clearly do not watch the council proceedings or know the history of the people on the council. She is arguably the most knowledgeable about the zoning code, the Comprehensive Plan and is the most prepared council member on whatever subject comes up.
[Portion removed due to disrespectful comment.]


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Posted by Rupert of henzau
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 17, 2014 at 6:31 am

Council watcher-- thanks for your comments. I am expressing my opinion. Nothing wrong with being pro development and nothing wrong with criticizing a council member with ethics issues. You are free to express your opinion. I stand by my comments.[Portion removed due to disrespectful comment.]


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Posted by woody
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 17, 2014 at 8:11 am

Looks like the green acres troll, masquerading as council watcher, is once shall attacking those that disagree with him.


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Posted by Council watcher
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 17, 2014 at 10:32 am

Woody, you are dreaming. I have no connection with green acres people and do not live there. I react to Rupert because of his many, many, many, repetitious postings.
Of course we are all expressing our opinions. Rupert may be under the impression we want to read his again, and again, and again.
The repetitions reduce the value of a public forum.


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Posted by Rupert of henzau
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 17, 2014 at 11:22 am

Council watcher-- what is wrong with repetitious statements? If the writer praises Holman, I have the right to disagree. If you do not want to read " repetitious" then skip over my postings. And when you say " we" , to whom are you referring to?

Woody- I agree


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